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MEMBER PROFILE

AN EYE FOR TALENT

SEAH GEK CHOO, FCA (SINGAPORE), DELOITTE SOUTHEAST ASIA TALENT LEADER

At 18, accountancy to Seah Gek Choo was simply the quickest way to obtain a professional degree and a ticket to good job opportunities. “I didn’t even know what bookkeeping was about!” she admits candidly. But the course she picked out of pragmatism would become the cornerstone of her successful career.

Upon graduation, Ms Seah joined multinational professional services firm Deloitte, and has been with them ever since. “The mentorship and support from the people I am surrounded by, and from the organisation as a whole, has provided me a lot of opportunities to learn along the journey. From special projects and non-audit work to overseas mobility opportunities, I have been given a wide range of exposure – and I enjoy it because I get to learn a lot of new things, not just in terms of core capabilities,” she says of her professional growth within the company, noting that being an ISCA member has also grown her professional network and given her opportunities to expand her skill sets. “Accountancy provided a solid foundation for me to take on these many different learning opportunities,” the Chairperson for ISCA Corporate Governance and Risk Management Committee shares. “The work of an accountant requires one to interact with a large cross-section of people, spanning finance to HR, across different industries. This gives one a good overview of operations, and how different organisations work.”

BUILDING PEOPLE IN TOUGH TIMES

Now into her 26th year with the company, the chartered accountant holds multiple roles. She is not only Deloitte Singapore’s Audit and Assurance partner, she is also the Southeast Asia and Singapore Leader for Deloitte Centre for Corporate Governance, which cultivates forward thinking and promotes dialogue with key influencers, business leaders, corporations and their boards, investors, accounting profession, academia and government on current and emerging corporate governance issues. Ms Seah is also the Talent Leader for Deloitte Southeast Asia, and the leader for Deloitte Singapore’s SheXO Program, which supports the personal and professional development of women leaders.

As Deloitte’s Southeast Asia Talent Leader, Ms Seah works with people from across a range of geographical locations and backgrounds. “The opportunities to work with a diverse team come with their own challenges, which call for a sensitivity and awareness of cultural differences,” shares Ms Seah. “It is important to have an adaptive and inclusive mindset: you need to listen and understand their different situations in different places, and empathise in order to work well as a team.” To reach such a level of understanding takes time, and Ms Seah takes the effort to speak to her counterparts in all 11 territories (10 ASEAN countries and Guam) every other week to maintain close ties. She admits though, that it would have been challenging to reach the same level of trust through remote communication had the relationships not been built before the pandemic. “That said, it is all about making the effort. I took over the regional role in the midst of the pandemic,” she adds. “Knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing one another in person as much, I schedule regular calls to stay in communication with my team – even short touch points are good.”

Strengthening relationships also aids the organisation in its growth. “How do we make sure that the organisation continues to evolve amid the pandemic? One key area is to create new talent initiatives that allow our people to develop,” shares Ms Seah. To illustrate, Deloitte has adopted an innovative approach to rethink their secondment mobility initiative into a virtual programme. This allows participants to be fully immersed in an overseas working experience despite border movement restrictions. They report to and work alongside team members of the secondment country, and deal with clients from the location; they even operate at the same working hours as the overseas team. “Introduced last year, this gives our people opportunities for professional development,” Ms Seah reveals. “At the same time, it has also opened doors for those who previously couldn’t take part in traditional mobility programmes due to personal commitments that tie them down to Singapore.”

Yet, building talent is not just about skills upgrading and increasing professional exposure, it is also about caring for each team member as a unique individual. As someone who takes pleasure in running to maintain physical wellness in her free time, Ms Seah pays equal attention to psychological wellness. “Mental health has become an important issue during the pandemic, especially when work seems to have no end with work-from-home arrangements,” she asserts. “Some might also feel obliged to respond quickly at all times of the day, adding to the stresses of working in a virtual environment.” To tackle the issue, Deloitte has created initiatives to address the importance of mental health, and dedicated resources for staff who need a listening ear to hear their stresses and anxieties. “To promote uptake of these initiatives, we recently held an awareness session for partners and leaders so that they can encourage more to talk about their problems, to acknowledge that it is okay to ‘not be okay’,” she highlights. “As leaders, it is important that we walk the talk. When our people see our leaders being transparent, it creates a safe environment for others to also share their concerns, building trust in the process.”

LEADING THROUGH SUPPORTING

As the leader for Deloitte Singapore’s SheXO programme, Ms Seah supports the personal and professional development of female leaders. Women, in her opinion, offer a different perspective on management. “Women tend to be more empathetic and adaptive,” she observes. “If a staff comes to me with a concern, I wouldn’t just zoom in on how to solve the work situation. Instead, my first thought would be to find out what problems he/she might be facing, and how I can help.” It is important to take a balanced approach. “So while I like to know what is within my control, and give clear instructions and schedules for my staff, I give my team members the freedom and ability to exercise control over how they manage their work, and am ready to support them when they need help.”

Outside of work, Ms Seah is a board member of Halogen Foundation Singapore, a values-based not-for-profit institution with a mission to inspire and influence youths to lead and become the positive change agents of their generation. She has also been volunteering at the Kampung Glam Community Club for over 10 years, and even ropes her teenage children in to help on the ground at times. “It is my way of giving back,” she says. “Being a chartered accountant helps because a lot of charities need the expertise of professional accountants to give them a different perspective on how to run the organisation.” She is on the audit and risk committee of Halogen Foundation Singapore, and had served as treasurer on the committee of Kampung Glam Community Club.       

The support that Ms Seah gives in raising others up is perhaps reflective of the support she herself has received. Apart from the encouragement from her bosses to take on bigger roles and challenges, her family has also been a pillar of strength. “I don’t really think I had to forgo anything to build my career. I have excellent family support and while my kids were young, my in-laws would care for them while I was overseas for work,” she notes. “Many women feel guilty about this, but they need to let go and know that someone else can take care of them as well. In fact, you might even bond better with your family after some time apart,” she reflects. She acknowledges that not everybody has the same aspirations. While she enjoys juggling her roles as mother, corporate leader and social worker, others might choose a different path. “Some people are raring to move faster while others might be content to move at a different pace. Empowering people is about letting them make their own decisions and, ultimately, take ownership of their own career.”

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1995  
Joined Deloitte Singapore

2006 to Present    
Audit & Assurance Partner

2010 to 2020   
Talent Leader, Singapore

2020 to Present   
Talent Leader, Southeast Asia

2019 to Present    
Southeast Asia and Singapore Leader, Deloitte Centre for Corporate Governance

2020 to 2021  
Member, Corporate Governance and Risk Management Committee, ISCA

2021 to Present  
Chairperson, Corporate Governance and Risk Management Committee, ISCA

2021 to Present       
Member, Membership Growth and Engagement Committee, ISCA